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Hillsboro-Central Valley has a knack for winning

Hillsboro Central Valley's Oscar Benson picks up yardage on a run in the first half Saturday. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Hillsboro-Central Valley cruised through the competition this season, never allowing more than eight points in a game, winning each by 19 or more points.

Until the Burros ran into Milnor-North Sargent

Hillsboro-CV beat Milnor-North Sargent 27-8 in the quarterfinal round of the North Dakota Class A high school football playoffs. The final 19-point margin of victory was deceptive; Hillsboro-CV trailed 8-7 entering the fourth quarter.

But Mark Hastings ran for 7- and 42-yard touchdowns in the final quarter and Oscar Benson returned an interception 23 yards for a score to seal the win.

"I think that (fourth quarter) was where knowing how to win kicked in for us,'' H-CV coach Scott Olsen said. "Our kids had the focus to finish the game. We were pretty evenly-matched teams. But knowing how to win carried us through.

"All of these kids have done it before.''

The Burros are defending state champions and meet Langdon-Edmore-Munich at 9:10 a.m. Friday in the Fargodome in the state championship game. It's a rematch of last year's final, won 16-14 by the Burros.

Most of the Burros were on last season's championship team. Several played key roles. But the winning ways of the Burros go beyond the football field. There have been champions year round.

Hastings won a state wrestling title last winter. Carson Henningsgard and Landen Reed were regulars on the H-CV basketball team that won its second straight Class B state title last March. Benson, Ezra Longthorne and Isaac Luithle ran legs on championship relay teams at the state track meet last May.

"It's crazy for Hillsboro-CV athletics right now,'' Hastings said. "Sometimes we don't realize how insane it is, how well we've done the past few years. It doesn't seem real.

"I think it shows how well rounded we are as athletes. And all the championships we win, they motivate you to work harder to do well in the next season.''

Olsen said the success starts with having good athletes. But the Burros have been able to build off their natural talents.

"We have a lot of hard-working kids,'' Olsen said. "They buy into the systems. In every sport we've had success. They want to keep winning. And good athletes is a big part of it. We're riding that wave now.

"It's not just a physical attribute. It's a mental thing, knowing how to win. There's an attitude, that they'll do whatever it takes to win.''

The athleticism shows up primarily in the run-oriented offense. Benson is a dominant rusher, picking up 1,696 yards. Hastings (433 yards) and Longthorne (300 yards) also have been big contributors in H-CV's option offense.

That athleticism also shows on defense. The Burros have 78 tackles for loss, led by Luithle (17.5) and Hastings (15.5). Henningsgard has six interceptions and Benson and Longthorne four each.

"We have a good mix of athletes at linebacker and running back,'' Olsen said. "Those positions are a big part of our team. The running backs, except for Mark, are the track kids. And Mark is a hard-nosed kid. The tenacity he brings carries over to the other kids.''

Strength, speed, tenacity—all have led to a lot of title runs for the Burros. The success is something they'll probably appreciate more as time passes.

"Right now, it's all kind of a blur,'' Hastings said. "When it's all done, after we've graduated, we'll probably look back and appreciate it more.''

Hillsboro-Central Valley

Coach: Scott Olsen.

Record: 11-0, Region 1A champion.

Friday's state championship game: The Burros play Langdon-Edmore-Munich (11-0) at 9:10 a.m. in the Class A state championship game in the Fargodome. It is a rematch of last season's final, won 16-14 by the Burros.

How the Burros got here: After going 8-0 in the regular season, the Burros defeated their three playoff opponents by a combined 120-24. They defeated Harvey Wells-County 49-8 in the first round, Milnor-North Sargent 27-8 in the quarterfinals and Dickinson Trinity 44-8 in the semifinals.

Starting offense: Jr. QB Micah Gallagher, jr. RB Oscar Benson, sr. FB Mark Hastings, jr. WR Gavin Wright, jr. WR Carson Henningsgard, jr. TE Landen Reed, sr. T Jacob Heinitz, jr. T Joey Camrud, sr. G Jake Moore, sr. G Connor Aanerud, sr. C Seth Owens.

Starting defense: NT Owens, DE Heinitz, DE Reed, OLB Benson, soph. OLB Kaden Pastian, jr. ILB Isaac Luithle, ILB Hastings, jr. CB Ezra Longthorne, CB Wright, SS Henningsgard, sr. FS Brayden Schildberger.

Offensive average: 39.4 ppg.

Defensive average: 5.5 ppg.

Leading rushers: Benson 215-1,696, 21 TDs; Gallagher 60-489, 9 TDs; Hastings 60-433, 11 TDs; Longthorne 42-300, 6 TDs

Leading passer: Gallagher 31-64, 548 yards, 6 TDs.

Leading receivers: Reed 7-193, 2 TDs; Henningsgard 9-166, 1 TD; Wright 6-108, 3 TDs.

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